ABSTRACT REALIST

BY COLIN MCCANDLESS

Beaufort, South Carolina-based watercolorist Casa Huger Bacot took the long road to becoming an artist.

Bacot’s father was in the Navy and, as the child of a military parent, she moved around a bit. Although Bacot was born in New York City, she grew up in Richmond, Virginia, a place she remembers fondly for its vibrant arts scene. It would be years, however, before she would become a part of that city’s arts community.

Bacot’s attraction to the arts comes as no surprise—it was in her DNA. Her mother, Sarah Huger Tanner (whose own mother was from Charleston), was a jeweler and a sculptor. So it seemed only fitting that, when the time was right, Bacot would develop her own talents.

After the birth of her fourth child Bacot felt the urge to take up painting. In the beginning, she studied painting for a summer at the University of Richmond. Then, on the advice of a teacher, she transferred to Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU), a Richmond college with a highly ranked arts program. “I loved it. I just danced through the alleys I was so excited about being there,” recalls Bacot.

Bacot spent three years at VCU, where she developed what would become a lifelong affinity for the abstract style. She didn’t finish (her intention, she says, wasn’t to graduate but rather to study painting at a reputable art school). Instead, she heeded a teacher’s recommendation to go out on her own as an independent artist. Bacot has developed what she calls a “loose” painting method, referring to her work as abstract realism. In her watercolors, shape, color and texture become as important as the people or objects depicted. She renders her subjects in vivid colors. “Color is everything for me,” she explains. “Color is life. That’s why I use watercolors and gouache [opaque watercolors].”

To the viewer, her work has a soft, dreamlike quality. The perspective is fluid, sometimes flattened. Objects and figures are even cropped at the edge of the frame, as if she had captured them with a camera. The paintings remind us of places—landscapes, rooms or objects—that we treasured as a child. We know them. They are in our subconscious.

Bacot has received many awards, but two, she says, stand apart from the rest. One was the Watercolor Society of Alabama’s Purchase Award; the other, awarded at the Virginia Museum of Fine Art’s Biennial Exhibition, went to a painting in her signa-ture loose style. Bacot has been featured in solo exhibits at the Reynolds Gallery and the 1708 Gallery in Richmond, as well as in various group shows at VCU. Her work is in many public collections— the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, the former Bell Atlantic Corporation (now Verizon) and the North American Corporation, to name a few.

Today, Bacot works out of her home studio in Beaufort. For years, scenes of New England—harbors, pine forests, flowers—have been among her favorite subjects. (She lived for eight years in Maine, near the idyllic town of Camden.) Other subjects draw on photographs taken from her extensive travels.

Bacot most admires the work of the French Impressionists, such as Monet’s Water Lilies series, and Matisse. Other influences include Van Gogh and New York landscape and watercolor artist Nell Blaine, who spent her summers in Maine.

Bacot settled in Beaufort eight years ago. Today, her paintings are represented at The Charles Street Gallery. She has no plans to move. “I love it here and I’m building a house,” says Bacot. “I expect to be here the rest of my life.”

Colin McCandless is a freelance writer and editor based in Charleston.